SARATOGA SPRINGS — After speaking with a portion of bar owners about a plan to hire a security company to cordon off Caroline Street at certain times – and use metal detectors, wands and conduct ID checks — Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino said he will speak with additional owners this week.
“It’s moving forward,” Montagnino said of the concept, which would be the new administration’s resolution to addressing weekend violence that has plagued Caroline Street. “It’s still in the planning stage. It’s not anything that’s been worked out in detail.”
Montagnino said he originally heard the idea from Mayor Ron Kim when they were campaigning last year.
“It will make for a safer Caroline Street,” Montagnino said, “and make each weekend in the summer a mini event with musicians and performers in the street as well. Kind of give it more of a party atmosphere than it already has.”
Kim said he’s aware of comments that argue the public security checks would violate 4th Amendment rights.
“It’s not because, basically, if you don’t want to be searched, you don’t want to be ID’d, you just don’t come to that area of the town during a certain time period,” Kim said.
“It’s clearly passed muster, constitutionally, because we do it in all sorts of venues now, since 9/11, in particular.”
The mayor mentioned Beale Street in Memphis and Walt Disney World as other places that have similar security protocols.
Kim said he believes the plan would make the environment safer for the police who congregate the strip of bars on Caroline Street and bar and restaurant workers.
But the officials said they’re open to input from the community.
“We’re going to have some discussions with the direct community on Caroline Street and the larger downtown business groups and get their thoughts,” Kim said. “But the intention is to try to do something to improve security down there. This is, in my mind, probably one of the most concrete ideas and here’s the other thing, we’re not using cops for this.”
Former Mayor Meg Kelly didn’t mince words in objecting to the plan.
“These people are crazy,” she said in an interview.
“They weren’t here in the ’80s. We ended the Caroline Street block party because it was a disaster. It was just a drunken brawl.”
Kelly said the current regime, which is also working on a plan to close portions of Caroline Street and two other streets for outdoor dining, isn’t communicating with the right people to make these sweeping changes.
“Closing off streets for merchants — it has to be thought through,” Kelly said. “You have to include the EMS and police because when you close roads, you can’t get emergency vehicles and that creates an issue.”
She added: “If you’re going to hire a security company to check people’s bags on Caroline Street — the city can’t do that without a grievance coming into play because we have unions, and those are union jobs.”
But Gaffney’s bar and restaurant, a Caroline Street institution that has been at the forefront of concerns about violence, with at least four incidents in or around the bar since New Year’s Eve, supports the plan.
“The suggestions made by Commissioner Montagnino to enhance Caroline Street are positive from our vantage point and we support these efforts in order to keep the corridor an entertainment destination,” the owners of Gaffney’s said in a statement.